Han Lingyun had momentarily stopped. He forcibly calmed down his thoughts that started to run wild and put some flags in a large circle around the scene. He was trying to uncover the direction Wang Yimo went to through the residual yin attribute qi. He rapidly found a trace and followed it.
Before long, he came in front of a crack in the ground of a rocky hilltop. Trying his best to calm his nerves, he took a step forward.
*BOOM.* A large explosion shook the entrance.
Half an hour ago, Wang Yimo was carefully treading towards Han Lingyun when the soil disappeared under her feat. With lightning reflexes, she immediately took off on a flying sword while simultaneously launching her Moon Gaze but a violent explosion rocketed her and threw her out of balance. She crashed back down to notice 5 disciples wearing robes of the Cheng Huang School surrounding her. A sharp pain to her left wrist suddenly assaulted her senses.
Wang Yimo examined her condition as she cursed her luck, her left wrist had broken due to the collision.
Her defensive art had saved her life but she was now facing a terrible crisis. At the same time, she noticed her white token on the ground far away. It had escaped her left hand under the shock and was thrown far away. Wang Yimo’s adrenaline level shot up like never before.
Some distance away, the sound of large explosions echoed in the meandering valleys, accompanied by the occasional tremor of the ground.
By coincidence, Yu Tao was in the same area. His strategy was simple: head straight in the direction with the loudest explosions to meet the strongest opponents, then crush them to dominate the rankings with the highest number on his black token. At this instant, Yu Tao’s eyes gleamed as the ferocity of this fight was the greatest he had sensed yet.
Thus, Yu Tao rapidly arrived on the combat involving Wang Yimo. He scanned the scene in the blink of an eye. The fighting was desperate and all the vegetation around had been pulverized. There was a dismembered body half buried under the ground and two other black tokens lying around. Wang Yimo had a deep wound on her right leg, with blood tricking down. She kept her left hand to her torso, its unnatural angle showing it had broken. Wang Yimo’s right hand was holding on to a sword, trembling slightly due to her reserves being nearly depleted.
She faced off two disciples of the Cheng Huang School. All three wore savage expressions and looked consumed by hatred.
Without saying a word, Yu Tao circulated his power frantically. A huge lightning ark circled the terrifying spear that zoomed towards the two Chen Huang’s disciples. Before they had time to scream or move, they were pierced through by the unstoppable attack. Qi of unimaginable wildness destroyed their bodies from the inside before burning the remains. They died on the spot and their bodies soon disappeared into ashes.
It was over! Wang Yimo’s pain was swept by a wave a weakness and fatigue. She fainted on the spot, in part due to the blood loss and in part due to the immense shock she had received. Yu Tao managed to gently catch her falling body and picked her up. He rapidly destroyed the last corpse and picked the Black Tokens left behind.
Wang Yimo eventually regained consciousness and nearly cried out because of pain caused by the injuries she had repressed and ignored during the fight.
As she gritted her teeth, a hand placed a healing pill in her mouth. The pain didn’t disappear but it was toned down. Wang Yimo gradually became aware of her surroundings. This was underground, and Yu Tao had taken care of her worst wounds.
She whispered. “Thank you.”
Yu Tao smiled. “It is my duty to help fellow sect disciples. Does it still hurt?”
“Yes, I-I’ll have to rest a bit longer.” Wang Yimo didn’t want to move. She could but that thought terrified her.
Some images of the fight flashed back in her head and her heart suddenly started beating faster and irregularly. Wang Yimo gripped the cold stone with her right hand as she felt the world spinning. Images of her first mission with Han Lingyun mixed into her erratic memories.
Yu Tao noticed Wang Yimo’s sudden breathlessness and the beads of sweat trickling down her forehead.
“Miss Yimo, quickly activate this white token, your injuries seem to be relapsing.”
Wang Yimo firmly grabbed the white jade, to the point when her right hand started trembling too.
Her thoughts had already wondered off to the times before she turned 10, when her talent had yet to be uncovered. In the terrifying wilderness, a long-repressed memory. That time her sister was brutally killed. And the culprit wasn’t one of the beasts they came to hunt, but her own cousin. For the longest time, she couldn’t remember the scene and her memories of the events were shrouded in darkness.
The blood spraying, the mangled corpse, the horror. The events of that day fused with the forgotten past. Wang Yimo’s head was buzzing. She was gasping for air. It was as if she was drowning.
Yu Tao could only feed the young girl another pill. He seemed to realize that it wasn’t a physical issue.
“Miss Yimo, don’t force yourself. You should have already realized it, right? This type of bloody cultivation isn’t made for you at all. In fact, you have already been tainted by these crude methods, losing bit by bit your purity.”
Yu Tao looked into her eyes. His dark pupils and broad shoulder had a soothing effect on her irregular pulse. Unhesitating words kept leaving his mouth and entering her ears. In her weakest state, they felt like unbreakable truths.
“Beautiful lotuses should remain by the lake, playing the zither. Miss Yimo, if you so wish, you can accompany me and I will guarantee that you will pass this phase safely without having to dirty your hands.”
Wang Yimo stood in a daze. At this instant, she didn’t care about the competition. She just felt bewildered.
Yu Tao furrowed his brows after his proposition was met by silence. “In that case, miss Yimo, quickly activate your white token.
Wang Yimo slowly nodded but she didn’t move further. Her face reflected hints of reluctance.
Yu Tao’s realized he was facing a wall; he stood back up.
“So be it. I’m sorry I won’t be able to accompany you any longer, Miss Yimo, but it is my duty to the White Tiger Sect to do well in the rankings. Therefore, please excuse me. Don’t worry, I’ll be teaching those Cheng Huang School’s disciple a lesson they will never forget.”
Wang Yimo’s memories of the minutes following Yu Tao’s departure were cloudy. She hadn’t even noticed him leaving.
A small tear slowly tricked down her bruised cheek.
‘No more. I hate it all. I can’t. No more.’
In the darkness and alone, she curled up and started crying silently.
Because of cultivation, on the exterior she looked 15- or 16-year-old, but she was only 12. This time, perhaps it had been too much.
A while later, Wang Yimo’s body suddenly tensed up. She jumped up, horrified at the thought of someone finding her, even forgetting the existence of the white token. She took an attacking stance and launched her signature qi wave with all her remaining qi.
Wang Yimo peered into the dust and gripped sword tightly.
It was then that a familiar voice entered her ears.
Han Lingyun! Wang Yimo sat down. Tired and ashamed.
Han Lingyun emerged from the dust. Elder Wen’s defensive treasure had proved useful here. Before entering the cave once again, he had charged it back with another mid-grade crystal just in case. Because it couldn’t defend against foundation establishment attacks, the treasure was allowed at the competition. To be exact, Elder Wen gave a weaker version of the treasure to fit in the mid qi condensation category.
It proved enough to defend against one of Wang Yimo’s peak attacks head on though, reflecting the qi in all directions.
Han Lingyun noticed Wang Yimo terrible shape and immediately gave her several healing pills classified at the peak of mid-grade qi condensation in their effectiveness. Then he took out a mid-grade qi crystal to replenish her qi reserves. After she reached a satisfactory level, Han Lingyun enquired about what happened and Wang Yimo provided a disjointed recollection of the events on her side.
Her description rapidly shifted to her plans of staying in the cave to recuperate. “Actually, there is no point in that first phase. Perhaps it’s best to just wait it out.”
Han Lingyun sensed something wrong with her tone, he didn’t recognize her usual self, her domineeringness, combativeness and pride. With his improved eyesight in darkness, he also noticed Wang Yimo’s slightly reddened eyes.
He was taken aback as he understood that most likely, her Dao Heart had cracked. ‘Is her calm voice just for show? I need to think of something.’
“Wang Yimo, listen to yourself, this isn’t you! Where did all your ambition go? Where is the Wang Yimo that subdued all the first years and ended the faction fights?
I know that you just had a shock but it is especially in times of vulnerability that you temper your Dao Heart. What about your teacher? How would she feel if she heard you talking? Come on, let’s head out and start to slowly become hunters once again. What about our training for this competition, are you abandoning before even trying out the results?”
By now, Wang Yimo had mostly recovered from her light injuries already with the healing pills but she had yet to move.
“But do we have to fight? Look at alchemists, they don’t need to fight and can become powerful cultivators too. Perhaps, in my heart, I want to become an alchemist.”
“It’s not about choosing the right path; it’s about not abandoning and backtracking on the road!”
Han Lingyun was troubled. ‘When has Yimo ever had the slightest interest in alchemy? I’m concerned this is just an excuse to abandon. Shit I’m not a psychologist nor a powerful cultivator. There is no way I can mend her Dao Heart with a couple of words.’
Wang Yimo interrupted Han Lingyun with her hand. She wanted some silence.
In fact, Wang Yimo still felt completely lost. As clarity replaced the horror, random thoughts were popping up in her mind. What would her master want her to do? How would she react after fighting to the death like this?
Then she remembered Yu Tao’s words. Wouldn’t it be… easier?
She still hesitated as her instinct told her that this decision was important. But she didn’t want to go on, this world was too hard to face, too violent.
“I think, I want to rest in the cave a bit more…”
Han Lingyun slumped back, defeated. He understood that he had failed. The boy began to groggily head back out like he had taken a serious hit or lost a precious friend.
His steps stopped as a thought suddenly crossed his mind and he turned around to see Wang Yimo fixing the empty wall in front of her. He bitterly remembered the long nights spent admiring the sky and making plans to explore the universe. “What about the stars?”
Wang Yimo’s breath froze for an instant. “What about the stars?” She murmured.
There was a long silence
There was a pause that felt like an unending silence. Han Lingyun didn’t know how long it lasted. It could have been one minute or perhaps 10, but he didn’t dare to move an inch as he stared at Wang Yimo’s thoughtful face.
She raised her head to only find darkness. She could vaguely discern the rocks above. An intense frustration overturned her indecisiveness. ‘I can’t see the stars in here.’
Her heart inexplicably clenched at the thought. The stars… and all the dreams she had when she first started to cultivate, when she trained with her sister. ‘If I stay here, I feel like I’m abandoning all of them.’
Wang Yimo slowly stood back up, still trembling faintly; her eyes had regained a hint of their usual determination. “I’ll give it a chance.”
It was as if she had received a bucket of water in the face, as her mind focused back again. She took a big breath.
‘Was I ready to abandon just like that? I have a lot of progress to do in that area. Anyway, did Yu Tao take the 4 black tokens?’’
As her thoughts started racing again, Wang Yimo took out a fan from her sleeve to cool herself down. A normal girl would have never recovered that fast but Wang Yimo was a true cultivator.
Han Lingyun was momentarily stunned by the complete shift Wang Yimo went through. As Wang Yimo passed him and exited the cave, he couldn’t help but smile brightly in absolute delight.
What about the stars? Her goals, her dreams, her meaning, her reason to live. Han Lingyun had opened her view to a whole other world by expanding on the universe and now she wanted to explore it too. But how could she pretend to reach it one day if she didn’t fight for her destiny, if she abandoned so easily?
Wang Yimo walked with Han Lingyun out of her dark cave, back to the competition, back to the cultivation struggle. Back to the light.